Titans vs. Bengals: Preview, predictions, what to watch for

An inside look at Saturday’s Titans-Bengals AFC divisional matchup in Nashville, Tenn.:

Marquee matchup

Bengals QB Joe Burrow vs. Titans front four

Burrow’s talent and moxie were on display in last week’s win over the Raiders, his first playoff game. Now, he has to take the show on the road against a tough defense.

“We trust in Joe,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “The more I’ve been around, I’ve learned to just shut my mouth and let the magic occur.”

The Titans have 35 sacks and 153 QB pressures, according to ESPN, using just a four-man pass rush. Both of those figures rank second in the NFL. The Titans don’t blitz a lot because they don’t have to.

Burrow was sacked 53 times this season, more than any other quarterback in the NFL.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) scrambles
Joe Burrow will have to be on guard against the Titans’ standout pass rush.

“That’s the most important thing going into this game,” Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. “It’s going to come down to how our front four plays this week. We know it. Of course, stopping the run — but it’s also how can we affect the quarterback? Get our hands up at the line of scrimmage. How can we try to keep him from going to his favorite targets?”

Costello’s call

The Titans are the better team, but Joe Burrow is the better quarterback and Cincinnati is going to ride him to its first road playoff win in franchise history. I don’t think Derrick Henry will be 100 percent. The Bengals stun the Titans.

Bengals 24, Titans 20

Four downs

Who Dey? The Bengals snapped an eight-game losing streak in the playoffs with the win last week over the Raiders. It was the franchise’s first playoff win since the 1990 playoffs, when Boomer Esiason was the quarterback. Now, the Bengals are trying to get to the AFC Championship game for the first time since 1988, when Esiason took them to the Super Bowl. The Bengals will have to get there with a road win, but they are 0-7 on the road in the postseason, dating to 1970.

While the Bengals celebrated their playoff win last week, quarterback Joe Burrow said that is what should be expected.

“I tried to downplay it and all that because this is how it’s gonna be from here on out,” Burrow said. “It was a great win for us. But now this is the standard for the bare minimum every year going forward.”

Coaching clinic: Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel is the favorite to win the NFL Coach of the Year award in a few weeks after guiding the Titans to the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

The Titans (12-5) had five straight wins against 2020 playoff teams and they notched eight wins over teams that finished this season with a winning record. Vrabel did it with his best player, Derrick Henry, sidelined for the second half of the season. The Titans also used a league-record 91 players this year.

Vrabel may give the Titans an edge in this game. He is 8-0 with at least nine days between games in his head-coaching career.

Defensive end Trey Hendrickson #91 of the Cincinnati Bengals forces a fumble
Trey Henderson is the Bengals’ sack-master.
Getty Images

Trey day: The Bengals made a big move in free agency last offseason, when they signed defensive end Trey Hendrickson to a four-year, $60 million deal. It has paid off. He had a franchise-record 14 sacks this season.

Hendrickson suffered a concussion in the win over the Raiders last week, but has been cleared to play.

“He’s been in these moments before,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said, referencing Hendrickson’s playoff experience with the Saints. “He’s one of our premier players. It’s good to have him.”

Julio Jones #2 of the Tennessee Titans stiff arms Shaquill Griffin
Julio Jones hasn’t been the star the Titans were hoping for, but brings valuable playoff experience.
Getty Images

A healthy Julio: The Titans expected a big impact when they acquired wide receiver Julio Jones, but the big receiver played in just 10 games this season. He finished with 31 catches for 434 yards and one touchdown as he dealt with a variety of injuries. Jones returned for the Titans’ Week 18 win over the Texans and caught five passes for 58 yards and a score in that game.

Jones has plenty of playoff experience from his time with the Falcons and could be a key factor in this game.

“I’m in a great place right now,” Jones said. “We gonna go out there and put on a show for [Titans fans]. That’s what a week of preparation [will do] — coming out here, working each and every day, and not taking it for granted, and understanding what we have in front of us.”

source: nypost.com